Why Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan And Fellow Bro-Country Artists Still Reign
The calendar may have changed but country music hasn’t.
It looks like bro-country will dominate 2015 just like it did in 2014. At the time of writing this article, six of the top ten country singles are by so-called bro-country artists. Three others are by men. The lone female artist is Carrie Underwood. Interestingly, her single “Something in the Water,” is the top song.
Billboard’s top country albums chart is also ruled by bro-country boys and once again Underwood is the only artist from the fairer sex. Bro-country artists that landed inside the top ten are Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, and Brantley Gilbert.
In 2014, Bro-country artist Eric Church’s Outsiders sold more than 700,000 copies making it the bestselling country album of the year and fourth overall. His bro-country brethren Luke Bryan came in at number seven while Brantley Gilbert captured the eighth spot.
With Taylor Swift going completely pop, country music now has fewer women than a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Basically, country music is a testosterone-filled, Y chromosome-having, foul-smelling tree fort with a huge sign on the door that reads “No Girls Allowed.”
What Is Bro-Country?
Bro-country is a subgenre of country music that uses elements of rock and hip hop music. A lot of bro-country songs are about trucks, drinking, and hot women in bikini tops.
Prime Examples of Bro-Country
>>“Cruise” by Florida Georgie Line
>>"That's My Kind of Night" by Luke Bryan
>>"Boys 'Round Here" by Blake Shelton
>>“Talladega” by Eric Church
>>"Dirt Road Anthem" by Jason Aldean
Not every bro-country artist sings about beer, pickup trucks, and the honeys all the time, but those three topics do frequently serve as inspiration.
There’s a group of artists that are bro-country adjacent—Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley being two such examples. Also, you can be a dude, sing country music, and not be a bro-country artist (i.e. Garth Brooks), but all bro-country artists are men.
Many take umbrage with bro-country’s portrayal of women. They are usually described as being scantily clad and swilling beer while sitting on a tailgate. Bro-country artists never call a paramour a “ho” or a “bitch” but they seldom ever comment on their SAT scores or personalities.
At least one woman, country music star Kacey Musgraves, is more offended by bro-country’s penchant for pickup trucks then about their proclivity for women in bikini tops. She famously told British GQ: “Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares.”
“I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song,” – Brian Kelly of Florida Georgia Line
Where Have All The Women Gone?
There are two issues at play here. One is serious and the other is more on the trivial side. On the trivial side is bro-country’s popularity. Country music fans will eventually move on to something else. In an article by Calvin Gilbert recently published on CMT.com, he brings up the concept of “the pendulum.” He writes that “the pendulum” has always swung within the country music genre from its conservative core to whatever fad (usually one that’s too pop or too rock) is popular at the time.
The more serious issue is the lack of female artists within the country music industry. Why aren’t their more women making it big in Nashville? As I enumerated above, the genre seems to be abnormally dominated by cowboys.
One reason given for the disparity is glamour. Men can just put on a t-shirt and go to a gig whereas women are expected to look glamorous. In trying to explain the glam phenomenon, Luke Bryan said: “Some girls on radio tours, it will take them two hours to get all dolled up to do three songs for a radio guy. They do two hours worth of glam. I mean, It’s tough, you know?”
That seems a little simple, and it certainly hasn’t stopped Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, but all male singers have to do to look presentable is throw on a t-shirt and an old pair of jeans.
Money, Money, Money
Clearly, bro-country sells. Since it’s so popular the country music industry is going to continue to nurture bro-country artists. If music by one-armed, red-headed dwarves was selling like hotcakes then Nashville would be singing every one-armed, red-headed dwarf they could find to a record contract.
Remember what Blake Shelton said in early 2013:
“Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
Shelton angered a lot of country music fans with his comments but he’s right. It’s all about what sells, and right now, what sells is bro-country. Fans want to hear music from a male perspective.
I think another reason why bro-country is so popular is because it’s one of the last bastions of traditional masculinity. We live in a very feminine world. Men get manicures, have bro-mances, and drive hybrid cars. Bro-country music, as well as a Jason Aldean concert for example, allows both sexes a chance to relish men who drink beer (not appletinis), drive pickup trucks (not electric cars) and work with their hands (not on a computer).
Not that there’s anything wrong with being sensitive—I, for one, love getting a manicure—but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that men used to be a bit more rugged. My grandfather built his own home. My father remodeled his. I don’t even own a saw.
Not even the most ardent bro-country artist wants fewer opportunities for women than men in the music industry. No one on either side of the bro-country equation is fighting against equality, but there’s obviously a disparity.
With that being said, the Frozen soundtrack, Beyoncé’s self-titled album, and Lorde’s Pure Heroine were the top selling albums of 2014. Carrie Underwood is more popular than any bro-country artist. And women buy more music then men.
Also, I hate to break it to the naysayers but Church can’t have the bestselling country album of the year without women buying a lot of copies. Women make up a huge portion of the bro-country audience. If you don’t believe me just check out a Luke Bryan concert or a Blake Shelton tour stop.
Country Now & Then
If you look at what bro-country artists are singing about it’s really no different than what other country artists sang about in previous decades. They might be a little more explicit than they were in earlier eras, but drinking, trucks, and hot women have been fodder for country musicians for generations.
Past Bro-Country-esque Songs
>>1951 - Hank Williams releases “Hey, Good Lookin’”
>>1959 - George Jones releases “White Lightning”
>>1969 - Tom T. Hall releases “A Week in a Country Jail”
>>1975 - C.W. McCall releases “Convoy.”
>>1984 – Hank Williams, Jr. releases "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight"
>>1987 – George Strait releases “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.”
>>1992 – Brooks & Dunn release "Boot Scootin' Boogie"
>>2001 – Garth Brooks and George Jones release "Beer Run (B Double E Double Are You In?)"
Complaining about bro-country is a little like saying there’s too much football in the Super Bowl and they need to add some basketball. Bro-country artists are catching flack because our world is more sensitive and feminine then it was when Jerry Reed sang “East Bound & Down.”
Bro-country is country music. And country music needs more women. But bro-country isn’t a sign of a dude-apocalypse, and even though the charts are lacking in estrogen, women aren’t exactly invisible when it comes to the music industry.
Ultimately, we should heed the words of Eric Church: “I think genres are dead. There’s good music. There’s bad music.”
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